Zoning discussion has happy ending

In a Solomon-like move, the Vermillion City Council did a good job of trying to satisfy everyone who has concerns about the rezoning from R-2 to R-1 of a residential neighborhood located two blocks from downtown. (See related story on page 1.)

There was a bit of a disturbing undertone in the discussion, however.

People who either reside in the neighborhood, or own residential property there initiated the zoning change. A petition was signed by 48 percent of the property owners, requesting that the zoning of the area be amended from its current R-2 residential to R-1 single family residential.

The primary difference between the two residential zoning districts is that R-2 allows multi-family structures of up to four dwellings, and R-1 is reserved for single family homes, and does not allow duplexes or four-plexes.

This neighborhood is located south of Kidder Street, between Church and Market streets. And, to interject complete transparency into this discussion, I must note my home is in that neighborhood, and my wife and I signed the petition in favor of the zoning change.

A factor that seemed to be, well, placed to one side during Monday's discussion at the city council meeting is the fact that it wasn't the city, it was nearly half of the people who live or own property in the neighborhood that initiated this action.

All the proper channels were followed. The petitions, and the desire to change the zoning, received the proper attention from the city's planning commission. I wasn't at that meeting, but it sounds like people both for and against the change were heard, with the commission ultimately deciding to recommend that the city council approve the zoning change.

People both for and against the change were heard Dec. 21, and after hearing that input, the council decided to give initial approval, in other words, give the okay to the first reading of the ordinance that allows the zoning change.

The matter came up for its second reading, or final approval, Monday. The process wasn't all that different from the Dec. 21 meeting. Once again, people both for and against the zoning change addressed the council.

During Monday's discussion, Alderman Mary Edelen, who had voted for the zoning change two weeks earlier, expressed misgivings about the change, arguing that things seem fine in the neighborhood the way they are right now, and that a zoning change really didn't seem necessary.

And at one point in the lengthy discussion, she noted that there was always the possibility that 10, 20, 30 years from now, that neighborhood, with its several grand, historic homes, may no longer be desirable to families. They could sit idle, empty, with their potential to become multi-family dwellings being unmet.

I guess talking about the future of the Vermillion community is always good, and pondering the demographics and trends of its citizenry can be an entertaining exercise.

I think what must always be remembered when we talk about this zoning issue – whether you are for it or against it – is that citizens brought this action. Not the city. The citizens followed all of the rules. The proper governing bodies were approached; the necessary public input was received.

Some of the concerns expressed by both those against and in favor of the zoning change are moot. The homes in the neighborhood that are currently multi-family retain that use, whatever the zoning. And, the residential area of town, which likely was developed not long after floods forced the city to relocate on the bluff, retains many of that era's characteristics. The yards are small; many of the driveways and alleys are narrow, reflecting that time.

In other words, there are a few homes that could be transformed into multi-family structures. But in many of the homes, such a use just isn't possible, unless city code is drastically changed to somehow squeeze every last drop of parking out of the small yards that surround some of the homes.

That's likely not going to happen.

The argument that families may one day not be attracted to the well-kept, historic homes in the neighborhood is, I must admit, a bit far-fetched. I respect Alderman Edelen a great deal, and recognize that she may genuinely be concerned about that. I must respectfully disagree with her, however. And I say this fully admitting that my home certainly isn't the most attractive in the neighborhood.

My wife and I have been investing, in the years we've lived in Vermillion, in the needs of our family more than our home. Yes, we mow our lawn and clear our sidewalks of snow. We plant flowers in the spring. We've thrown around a bit of paint here and there.

Our home, while not being a shack that's falling in on itself, is not the majestic, historic Gov. Lee residence. Or what's known as The Mayor's House, directly across the street from us. But it's home. One of the things that makes our place so inviting to our family is the beauty of the neighborhood.

When I contemplate what may happen in the future had the zoning not be changed, and, as Mary fears, the homes in our neighborhood may someday sit empty, I have my own mental scenario of what could occur.

Had the zoning not changed, leaving many of residences subject to being transformed into multi-housing units, it doesn't take a stretch of the imagination to picture what may happen.

All you have to do is drive by the residential areas in the vicinity of the USD campus and view the homes that have been converted to multi-use dwellings, and are primarily lived in by university students.

In some (not all) of those neighborhoods, it's not pretty. The homes, well, need some attention. The yards are often just weeds; the lack of pride of ownership is quite apparent. The residents of these homes really have no reason to have anything but the most fleeting investment in the property.

In these neighborhoods, homes are simply a roof over several students' heads.

I would hate it if that happened in my neighborhood. That's why I'm glad the city council found a way Monday to approve the zoning change and also fairly address the concerns of everyone involved.

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